The Best of the Decade series looks back over the most popular and beloved films of the past ten years. Each author chooses a film they believe to be the definitive film of the year, along with a wildcard favourite film of their own. For 2015, Eoin O’Donnell has chosen Spotlight as the definitive film of the year, with Creed as his personal favourite.
Best of 2015: Spotlight
Written by Eoin O’Donnell
When it comes to discussing a film of the year, or films of the decade for that matter, a best picture-winning historical drama about hard-hitting journalism is far from an exciting or unusual pick. However, 2015’s Spotlight really does deserve recognition above what you’d be tempted to dismiss as pure ‘Oscar bait’. Based on the true story of The Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” investigative journalist team, we follow a group of reporters as they uncover and break the story of systemic sexual abuse covered up by the Catholic Church.
Tom McCarthy’s direction for Spotlight could certainly be considered as no more than functional: a means to an end to efficiently tell an important story. That same efficiency is part of what makes the film work so well. A quick glance at his filmography will remind you that McCarthy is not an auteur or a visionary in the expected sense, but depicting a story like this necessitates the simplicity a grounded, down-to-earth writer/director like him provides.
Almost every other department follows suit in this pursuit of simplicity, from the film’s editing to its cinematography, serving as little more than vessels to bring the story to the screen in as straightforward a way as possible. The script is direct and potent, delivering characters that feel genuine and compassionate with pacing that allows them to develop without outstaying their welcome. It’s not exactly a visual feast, with few shots as bombastic or impressive as Mad Max, The Revenant or any of the rest of the year’s ‘prettiest’ pictures, but the film’s consistency in its visual language fits the story’s tone, and allows room for the terrific performances on-screen to breathe.
It’s the performances themselves that really are the driving force of Spotlight, though; Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo and Liev Schreiber lead the stacked line-up of actors assembled to make up the Spotlight team, the real group of journalists who exposed the horrifying scale of the Catholic church’s abuse scandal in Boston. They’re the beating hearts and emotional core of the film, but with the possible exception of Ruffalo, none of the performances are as loud or distractingly over the top as you might expect from this type of showcase. Schreiber, Keaton and McAdams are at maybe their most reserved and subdued here, and when the mounting horror and realization of their investigation finally breaks down their defences, even the smallest gestures of vulnerability and humanity are heart-breaking to watch.
It’s not exactly a visual feast, with few shots as bombastic or impressive as Mad Max, The Revenant or any of the rest of the year’s ‘prettiest’ pictures, but the film’s consistency in its visual language fits the story’s tone, and allows room for the terrific performances on-screen to breathe.
As an aspiring journalist myself it might be completely biased for me to latch onto a story about some of the most inspiring figures in the field, but in an age where reporters are maybe more under scrutiny than they’ve ever been, it’s important to be reminded of their impact. Spotlight’s impact is relevant not just to the world of journalism but also for Ireland and its own eerily familiar church scandals, some of which are even acknowledged in the film’s credits.
I always tend to side with the voices who elevate the underappreciated and overlooked films of a year rather than the ‘safest’ Academy darlings hailed for their perceived ‘importance’ rather than their craft, but sometimes the simplest answer really is the right one. For me, and for Spotlight, that really is the case, and for my money a story as important as this told in such an effective way deserves its spot as film of the year, and one of the stand-outs of the decade.
Spotlight is available to stream on Netflix and to rent on the Google Play Store.
Critic’s Choice: Creed
Written by Eoin O’Donnell
Outside of the more self-serious award-season dramas, 2015 also turned out to be a stand-out year for action cinema. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation reached new heights for the series, Star Wars: The Force Awakens revived and reinvigorated the long-dormant franchise, and Mad Max: Fury Road was so good even the Academy couldn’t resist giving it a Best Picture nod, rubbing shoulders with what they’d consider the ‘real’ films of the year. Above all else though, the dark horse that turned out to be my favourite of the year was Ryan Coogler’s Creed.
Unlike with many of the year’s other blockbusters, with Creed I had no emotional connection to the franchise. I’d never even seen a Rocky movie. What’s most impressive for me is that despite this, the arc and journey of the characters in Coogler’s film hit home harder than even my very own childhood icons returning to the big screen. The entire film is great, but Coogler’s eye for action really shines through in the boxing matches, culminating in a final fight that might go down as one of my favourites of all time, even with my frankly embarrassing knowledge of boxing. Michael B. Jordan’s lead performance and Ludwig Gorannson’s terrific score elevate the film’s finale beyond just empty spectacle, delivering an emotional gut-punch that never fails to be a knock-out for me.
Creed is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video and to rent from the Google Play Store.